Day 26: Empty.

posted February 14, 2018

Last week, I got depressed. At first, I was puzzled. I had just had one of the best weekends of my life. Our MLK@JFK had gone better than my wildest dreams. On Friday Feb. 2, we’d put on an assembly at my daughter’s middle school that included SOCA kids reading their poetry, the Amherst Area Gospel Choir singing, Mr. El-Are, local rapper/activist performing, Ousmane Power-Greene lecturing on the power of song in the Civil Rights movement, the A Cappella group singing “Glory” from Selma, and the Jazz band  playing “What a Wonderful World.” The assembly closed with the whole school rising and linking arms as I led them in “We Shall Overcome.” Then our sold-out show at the Iron Horse, with Kalliope Jones opening, on Saturday was as gratifying a show as I’ve ever had. Finally, on Sunday I got to sing my new songs at my beloved West Cummington Church.

Usually, any one of these days or events would have elevated my spirit for weeks. So why was I so sad? I felt empty. My mother said maybe I was a vessel. I treated my depression the way I usually do–by rearranging and decluttering. This time I focused on my library. So now, all the fiction is alphabetized, and I have bags of books lining the back of my van, to sell and donate. All my poetry volumes are together, as is an impressive spiritual library–Buddhist texts mingling with Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton, all in alphabetical order.

Other factors contributing to my depression: I posted a piece on Little Blue, as I do every week. But no one read it. My blog’s readership has plummeted in the last month, ever since Facebook’s algorithm switcharoo. I hadn’t realized how much it’s meant to me to feel as though someone is reading this blog, following the progress of my backyard house. Also, I lowered my caffeine dose to half of what it had been (still over the max for my weight, but gotta start somewhere). Also, I have gained two pounds.

My agent still hasn’t gotten back to me. That’s why I notice the two pounds. It’s a handy gauge, being a recovering food addict. I turned in my manuscript right before Christmas, and she still hasn’t responded. Suddenly I am vulnerable. Also, Patty our manager says what I wrote right before the MLK retreat is true: Albums are obsolete. We got our report from CD Baby. Here is a partial rendition:

$0.02 for DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SALES through iTunes – Apple Music – Australia
$0.01 for DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SALES through iTunes Match – Canada
$0.23 for DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SALES through iTunes – Apple Music – Canada
$0.01 for DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SALES through iTunes – Apple Music – Switzerland
$5.44 for DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SALES through iTunes-Europe
$0.01 for DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SALES through iTunes Match – Europe
$0.01 for DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SALES through iTunes – Apple Music – Europe

The Nields might never have album #19. Instead, maybe a loose collection of songs, at best a digital album. No more CDs. Writing this hurts so much, I want to look away. Of course I turn on my body, my sweet under-appreciated body. It’s not so much that I am blaming it–I hope I am more recovered than that. It’s the old threadbare idea that if only I were super thin, nothing would or could hurt me. When I am Awake, I am not fooled by this construction. But it can be there under the surface, a low hum that I am only aware of as a color. Rust red. It comes out as criticism of myself, and exhaustion that can no longer be managed by overusing caffeine. Nothing for it but to feel what’s real.

Little Blue is now neither little nor yet blue. And she is consuming me with decisions. The architect asks me to choose a weathervane. After considering a hummingbird (beautiful, delicate, always in motion, just as artists need to be), and a butterfly (duh), my family settles on the Owl. But which owl?

Or, we could mortgage our house and sell our children and get this one:

And I had to choose colors for the kitchen cabinets, and then tile to go with them. After rejecting some dead-looking olive green painted cabinets, I choose distressed black. I’ll spare you the details of the cabinet door choices, mitred edges and beaded vs not beaded, and about fifty-thousand other micro-choices.But what about tile? Which of these greens????

I am beginning to merge with this house. Is this the new me? In my twenties, the struggle was how to house the artist in me. And I took it out on my body, making my body conform to the dictates of the pop world, trying to emulate Madonna and all the Waifs who paraded through the magazines and MTV, and through the Grammy parties and the major label offices. I had to learn that my body was a sweet shelter that I dwelt within, and neither Me nor Not Me. I had to learn respect for it. Now, with so much of my attention on this house in the backyard, my future writing/retreat/music studio space, I am wondering if the next step is for me to be a container for others.

In my massive library reorganization, I uncovered a book ordered over a year ago at the urging of my friend, psychologist Carrie Hatcher-Kay. It’s based on Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems therapy, a Jungian/Buddhist/Family Systems blend. The modality is speaking strongly to me right now, and every time I read this book or meditated on my “parts,” I felt calmer, more centered. It shone a light to the tunnel out of my sadness. In the aftermath of the big weekend, I felt like a fist unclenching. Maybe part of the depression was just the emptiness one feels after a lot of energy has been exerted in a direction–in my case several directions. As the days went by, nurtured by the new modality of “parts” work, I began to feel better. My body settled, and I noticed I was much more available to my kids. I was less reactive and more interested in just being with their experience, rather than trying to change it. I stopped worrying about the 2 lbs.

The roof is finished, almost. The guys are building the cupola now. Next week, plumbers and electricians come to put in the circulatory system. By the beginning of March, the metal roof will be placed on the top. Over the weekend, I chose the stones for the fireplace, and the wood stoves.

I have a crazy window from the old barn that I have designs on for a work of art to hang above the mantle. Today, I had the thought, “What if I forget about my novel and my album, and instead become a Family Systems therapist, putter around and make art in my unqualified way, parent my kids and take care of my body? What if Little Blue really is my future? Would that be enough?”

Someone wise said to me today, “Isn’t it great that you aren’t working on a new album, and that your agent hasn’t given you your next set of instructions? Now you can focus on your house! And you would be losing your mind right about now if you had other projects due. You don’t know what the future will bring. This is what is in front of you. This is what you have to do now.”

The Comments

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  1. I vote for the 2nd owl, as the other 2 remind me of thr evil owl in thr Guardians of Ga’Hoole books. As for the tile, I like the 2nd from the left.

  2. There is someone I know about who when asked “How are you?” says “I couldn’t be better” because she says that is always true as she could never be any different than how she is right now. You are always ok whether you think so in that moment or not. I think of you as a talented, attractive, smart, wonderful parent, good friend, wise and all around good person and that includes knowing that because you are human you likely act crabby at times and probably even do things which in hindsight you wish you had done differently.

  3. How to embrace the ebb and the flow of energy, time, creativity? Maybe naming/renaming it would help. In reflecting on that let down after high energy times, the thought came to me, what if we used new labels? What if, instead of “I am depressed” (a stagnate sounding state), we say, “I am ebbing” (a state of movement that always moves to flowing)?

  4. You never know.. You don’t know that I read every word of your blog, that I would love another CD, that I think you are amazing, and brave to tackle the house, or even the library. We don’t know what others think and do.. and we end up feeling low. Joan Baez told me “I just put one foot in front of the other” that is hard because it is slow and purposeful.. but it gets us there. It is so easy to stay inside our own worries, discomfort, and sadness and not even realize how much we are affecting others, what a difference we are making. I know, because i am doing that right thanks for writing and for making me think..
    Choose an owl that looks like it belongs to Athena!
    I love you..and I want another house concert someday.

  5. A bunch of thoughts (yes, I read this blog!)

    1. Top left owl. Don’t sell the kids (short-term gain only). Utilize their labor instead (long-term benefit) 🙂 Besides, it is our kids who ultimately snap us out of our depression.

    2. I often get depressed after a week of highs. Especially this time of year. You are not alone. But music heals.

    3. Of course there will be an album #19, and even a #20. And, I, for one, can’t wait to have the opportunity to promote both (as well as #s 21-plus) on my show. I believe in you guys.

    4. I wish I only had to worry about 2 lbs. And I’ve already lost more than 100. You’ll be fine.

    5. House is coming along beautifully.

    6. This blog is a regular highlight of my ongoing existence. I look forward to it. Thank you.

    With hugs and love for Valentine’s Day week. (I’ll be playing “Love Love Love” on my show tonight.


  6. I have been reading dear Nerissa, your honesty and train of thoughts are illuminating. For tiles, I pick either the green on the far right or the tealy green 3rd from the left (I think you’d prefer this one, somehow). Nothing too dark imho, the space can be brightened by the tile.

    Just my 2 cents, have fun with it xo

  7. Nerissa
    Beautiful writing. I hear you about the albums – its tough to make a living as an artist when people feel like everything should be “free”… Your house looks like it is coming along beautifully. Reorganizing is a great way to channel action and not let the depression get too stifling… Hoping that you feel better soon and keep on moving forward (never turning back)

  8. Your blog is the only one I read immediately when it shows up in my feed. And I missed it terribly when you stopped posting for a while.

    I like the earlier comment about ebbs. That makes a lot of sense, especially in February when the New England winter is still going strong. (I won’t tell you what the temperature is in Claremont, California.) I too often feel let down after a series of triumphs.

    I’m the last person to ask about furnishing decisions, but would simply suggest that the joy is in the creating, not the creation. Or it should be.


  9. Nerissa,

    I read your blog! Every post.

    I don’t know how you gather your readership data, but maybe you don’t register when I see your post on my RSS aggregator.


  10. Your blog is great! I am always looking to see if you’ve written a new post. In fact, of all the blogs I read, yours is my absolute favorite, and I really miss it on days you haven’t posted. I really appreciate your depth

  11. I read your blog too Nerissa. I get to it through Twitter. Did you know I moved to Chicago? We have been making lots of choices about where to put all our stuff in a new condo.

  12. I’ve read every one of your recent blogs, and look forward to each one. Your honesty and thoughtfulness is truly refreshing.
    I, too, vote for more CDs. I buy as many these days as I did long ago, although I know that makes me somewhat of an outlier. A well-crafted set of songs, performed with great skill, ordered artfully, on a physical medium, is the way I still choose to consume music. And consuming music is of MAJOR importance in my life!
    But for now, do what you need to do, and don’t close off future avenues…

  13. I am reading! I am 33 and have been listening to you/the band since I was 14 years old, growing up in Calgary, AB. I have no idea how a very dorky Indo-Canadian teenage girl growing up in an extremely white suburb of a city in the Rockies found you and Dar Williams and Lucy Kaplansky, while simultaneously adoring the Backstreet Boys and Hanson. I used to lip-sync to “Friday at the Circle K” in my dad’s office while dinner parties were being thrown upstairs. My friend Julie and I sang “Easy People” at the one and only open mic we ever played, back when we were 20. My almost four-year-old daughter and I sing along to “All Together Singing in the Kitchen” all the time. Your writing and music is part of who I am. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please keep writing!

      • No, I’ve never been lucky enough to see you guys live! I honestly don’t know how I stumbled on to you but I have so many memories associated with your music. I’m so grateful that as a teen who never quite felt like I fit in anywhere, I somehow discovered a whole fleet of amazing, authentic women to look up to and be inspired by. I remember phoning every record store in Calgary around the time “This Town is Wrong” came out and then taking three buses and a C-train (our light rail transit) to the other side of town to buy it. It took all day and was worth every minute. <3

  14. One of my daughter’s moved here and then she got the other one to move here and then she started working on us. And then she had two children and they started working on us too, “I want Mimi and Papa to move at Chicago.”

  15. Love you, sweet friend! I’m still here and I’m still reading! Every time I try and make a new “this day needs a little help” type playlist it always ends up very Nields heavy, and that is just fine with me!

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